Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

Kung Fu Panda. We only had a dull black eyeliner pencil, though, so he looked more like Kung Fu Menace than Kung Fu Panda.
Evil Sister. Good Sister. I'm still trying to part with my wedding dress for Rwanda. This was part of my catharsis.
Tara's apple didn't fall too far from mom's tree.
It's a wonder I turned out so well.
Here's Demon Dog with Golfer Guy setting out to Trick or Treat.
And Superdog and Snow White setting out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Compliment

If you read this post, you know that I don't believe in the wholesale avoidance of the opposite sex. But this means that there's a whole world of gray in which to make decisions of how to act day to day. One fun minefield is the realm of compliments. To compliment or not to compliment?

I've worked at Christian companies for the past six years, so maybe these ideas will sound weird to you. But Christian workplaces are often weird. There is a whole spectrum of beliefs on the topic of complimenting.

On one extreme there are the Tight Lips. These are the ones who will treat you courteously, but make it clear that they are concerned that the opposite sex has an infectious disease. They would never be so forward as to make any comment that implied that they approved of you, your being, or anything related to you in any way.

Then there are the Buddies. These are the ones who act like your sibling and compliment you as often as they make fun of you.

Then on the other extreme there are the Skeevs. These are the ones who may say something identical to the Buddies but something in the manner of their look and tone make you feel like worms are crawling up the back of your arms.

Where do you fall in the spectrum? I hope you're not a Skeev. I must admit that I am a complimenter. I think the world would be a better place if we all gave more compliments to one another.

I tend to compliment people's clothing, men included. I appreciate fashion, but most men's fashion is as boring as a box of bran flakes. So if a man is wearing a nice shirt, I will tell him so. I don't believe this makes him suddenly want to run away with me to St. Thomas. (But please let me know if I'm wrong.) I would say to a man, "Hey, that's a great shirt." But I wouldn't say, "That's a right sexy shirt, Mister Thang."

At a church I used to go to, the pastor's wife instructed that no man should compliment a woman ever. I disagree with this. I love dresses. It is one of the great ambitions of my life to collect an entire wardrobe of fabulous dresses. Occasionally a dude will say, "Hey, cool dress." I appreciate this. It affirms my great life ambition. I wouldn't appreciate him saying, "That's a right sexy dress, Miss Thang."

But I don't like personal appearance compliments to stray beyond the objective things, such as that my dress rocks. I don't want to know if you think I'm beautiful or that I have beautiful eyes. (Both of which I've been told by male Christian coworkers.) I can't receive compliments like this about my personal being without either a. having an emotional reaction or b. thinking you're a skeev. I don't want a, and you don't want b.

On the other hand, my husband is someone who compliments women. I like this about him. It wouldn't be odd for him to get within six inches of someone's face and say, "You have really interesting eyes. I like the yellow spots in them; they remind me of creme brulee." But my husband is an odd duck. I don't think most men could pull this off, but my husband is luckily on the Buddy line on the spectrum, not the Skeev.

On the other hand, there are many compliments that could be given, but rarely are, about our unique gifts and skills and character traits. I wouldn't want someone to say to me, "You're the most intelligent woman I've ever met," (though I may secretly wish them to think it), but I would appreciate someone saying, "Hey, I really appreciated your insights on this topic."

We are instructed to "encourage one another and build one another up," in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and I think this includes pointing out areas where you see others striving and shining. Encouragement is a kind of compliment that is a good thing. And a little can go a long way. I used to sing in my college worship band. I loved singing in practice, but I was very self concious of whether or not I sounded like a drowning cat during worship. In all the time that I sang, I got one compliment, and I remember it to this day 13 years later. It was meaningful, as it put my worries at ease. It was Josh, by the way, Krista, so give him a pat on the back. I think he said, "You sang nice," in typical Josh form.

So often the small words of encouragement that we give others are stored up and treasured. Not in a "I'd like to run off to St. Thomas with you in a bikini" way, but in a, "Hey, that really meant a lot to me and built me up," kind of way.

What do you think? Are you tight lipped? Are you a buddy? Where do you think we should land on the spectrum?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rwanda: End of Days

Our last training day in Rwanda was PR/crisis communications training. At the end of it, it was time to say goodbye to all my friends whom I so often speak to and so seldom see. Kristin, Mark (who came to do video), and I were going to Lake Kivu for the night, as our plane left late on Saturday.

After goodbyes, we headed out in a very overcrowded taxi. I don't know why we never seem to remember that Americans are big and our luggage is bigger. A taxi fit for three Africans or three Asians is simply not fit for three Americans. So with two oversized suitcases crammed in the backseat, I sat crammed in Mark's armpit for one hour. It was bonding. Don't worry. I'd warned Mike that I was going to have to spend considerable time in a strange man's armpit.

Driving through the Rwandan countryside, you see terraced green hills, meandering streams, gushing waterfalls, children chasing bike tires, women sweeping their homes, men walking home from a day's work. I'm struck that all our idealized visions of the simple life are materialized here. Sometimes we think it would be nice to be poor again, to not have the worries of our city lives, but when we visit many poor places, we see how bad they can be. That wasn't my experience in Rwanda. At least from the vantage point of my overcrowded taxi, they seem to have retained the simple life without the other undesirable accoutrements of poverty, such as alcoholism, delinquency, and lots of garbage. It's a lovely place. There are still problems, such as health care and access to schooling. But if I have to move somewhere to be poor, it would be here.

We stayed at Serena Hotel at Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu is one of the great lakes of Africa and it borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was wild to stare across a lake at a country which seems so faraway and scary. As we arrived at the hotel, they greeted us with hot towels to refresh our faces and tree tomato juice. Tree tomatoes are like a cross between passion fruit and tomatoes. Sweet, but confusing. Our keys were cute gorillas. Here's my tree tomato juice and gorilla. For dinner that night, we ate on the open air balcony and got to watch more Rwandan dancing. We also got attacked by more Great African Termites. One kamikazied into our mayonnaise dish. He was nice and juicy.

The next day, we wandered about and took photos. Lake Kivu is lower elevation than Musanze, so the foliage was very similar to Hawaii. Lots of plumeria, hibiscus, and palm trees. I was in heaven. Here is a video of the hotel:

And one of the beautiful plumeria flowers. Here is a view of the beach, where we hung out and drank Coca-Colas.
Here is Rwandan for swing set.
More wandering about taking photos.
I found a little hammock where I wanted to stay forever. That is one of the most genuine smiles you'll ever see on me in a picture.
After our lazy morning, we had to drive back to Kigali. A three hour drive, crammed in the same overcrowded taxi, in the same strange man's armpit. Beautiful drive, but three hours down curvy roads made us rather ill. Then it was to the airport and off on our 36 hour jaunt back to the US.

On my first day back, Mike and I drove to Breckenridge through a blizzard on Hoosier Pass, awakening me from my warm slumber in Rwanda.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rwanda Day...I Don't Remember Anymore

Today was video training day. I don't have a whole lot to say about it. There was video. There was training. Oh, and there was rain. It has rained every afternoon and night, and today was no exception. All this rain is why it's so lush here, but it means that we don't get out of a hotel room much.

Tonight, we were treated to dinner at a nearby hotel where rich Westerners stay before going gorilla trekking. It was a beautiful hotel (on the was too dark and rainy to see the mountains outside). But it was cool to think how close we were to the mountain gorillas. This is the only gorilla that we saw.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chinese Mazungus and Blonde Headbangers

Day four was our photography practice day - a chance for the communication specialists to try out all we learned the previous day. We headed to a nearby Compassion center and took pictures of kids playing. This boy was the cutest thing.
Silas and I went on a home visit. I have gotten used to the cries of "Muzungu" (big whitey), that greet you in Africa as you walk down the street. But today I experienced something different. Children started calling out "Muzungu, Muzungu," then switched to something like, "Sheen! Sheen!" My trusty translator informed me that they thought I was Chinese. I guess my time in Yangshuo rubbed off.

We went to the watering hole where the family draws water and washes. I got mobbed.
But it was sublime. Wouldn't it be nice if I spent my days splashing in the river in the jungle? You could never be stressed out. Here are two short videos for you. The longest I can upload with this connection.


Although there are still problems, despite the Tarzan-esque water hole. We visited a family whose father died in the genocide. The daughter who is registered in Compassion has heart problems (it sounded like congenital heart disease to me, but it's hard to say with translation). She is getting treatment through Compassion. The oldest daughter had a baby who is severely disabled. He is one year and seven months old and can't sit up or speak. They named him the Kinyarwandan for "Trust in God."
I ate a huge African donut instead of lunch or dinner, because it's me we're talking about here. I'm not a big fan of the food, so I'm primarily living on African tea (which is whole milk with sugar, mind you), and more African tea. I couldn't resist a picture of me with a donut in Rwanda with a Bengali.
Phoebe had a surprise for us tonight, which was a traditional Rwandan dance performance. It was outstanding. I have tons of video, but can't upload it. I loved the drums. They made your heart pound. And man, can they dance. MTV has nothing on them.

They did balance-baskets-on-your-head dances.
They did blonde-warrior head banging. It was some serious head banging. Wayne's World also has nothing on them.And they did the obligatory laugh-at-the-muzungu dance.
It was an amazing experience. Can't wait to see what day five brings.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rwanda Day Three

This morning, I woke to The Great Flying Termite Massacre. The night before, a number of bugs with 2-inch wingspans were flapping about. This morning, as I left my room, there were hundreds of bug carcasses. Really, hundreds.

At breakfast, Silas told me they were African termites. I didn't know termites even had wings. Silas says they are a nice juicy snack. He also says they come out occasionally to mate, then die. I was the lucky witness of this. But because this place is cleaner than Disneyland, they were soon swept up.

During our training today, we focused on photography. Here are Rosette (Rwanda), Rufus (Bangladesh), Tigist (Ethiopia), and Charles (Tanzania) doing a photo exercise.
And Carol (Uganda), Vera (Ghana), David (Bangladesh), and Silas (Kenya).
I wandered out and did a photo shoot with the cranes. I love how the flowers perfectly matched their red markings.

The cranes kept ruffling their feathers and poofing up their wings to tell me to back on up. The various Rwandans standing around looked at me funny. I guess I'd feel the same way if I saw them cooing at pigeons.
Nearby, there is a co-op where they sell goods made by local women. I loved this bowl so much I bought it for myself. Do you like it, Mikey? I thought it could go on the gate table in our front room.
Here are two more that Kristin bought. I love the middle's colors. These smaller ones are about $8, and my bigger one was $13. I see that Macy's sells handmade Rwandan baskets for much higher prices. Their smaller ones go for $46, and the bigger ones are $60. I love a bargain. Let me know if you want one for Christmas. :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Sounds of Musanze

This morning, I woke to the sound of drums. I ducked out from under my mosquito net and stumbled to the window where I could see the volcanoes rising into the clouds in the sleepy blue of dawn.

As the light grew, so did the sounds of birds. I thought it sounded like the zoo, until I realized that it is the zoo that sounds like Africa. Two grey crowned cranes preened and cawed under my hotel window.

Sitting on my bed, preparing for the day, I heard a chorus of praise from the church across the street, a joyful ribbon of sound snaking its way down the street.

At the start of our meeting, we sang three songs, one Tanzanian, one American, and one Bangla (from Bangladesh). "Alive, alive, alive forevermore; My Jesus is alive, alive forevermore," still hops its way through my head in a fast Tanzanian beat. During the day, I heard my voice talking parallel phrasing, and the voice of my coworker, Silas, booming out Reverend King's "I Have a Dream" speech in his rich Kenyan bass - as an example of parallel phrasing.

At afternoon tea, the rain whished as we drank African tea: black tea with milk - a lot of milk - and ginger. A delicious new gelato flavor in the making.

After the day's training, we went for a walk in the twilight. We walked very slowly, as is custom for non-Americans, while motorcycles beeped as they whizzed by. Here are Carol (Uganda), Vera (Ghana), Tigist (Ethiopia), and Charles (Tanzania), very blurred I'm afraid, walking next to our hotel.

After dinner, I heard the thump of techno music in the cafe below my room, where Europeans laugh and clink their glasses while I try to sleep.

Rwanda Day One

In case you were eaten up with wonder, here is a picture of my Princess Mosquito bed. You may call me that from now on.
The weather here is heavenly. Last night, it was about 68 with low humidity. This morning it's about 73 with low humidity. Let's all move to Rwanda! I'm told this is what it's like year round. The Africans, all garbed in jeans and sweaters, saw me wearing short sleeves and capris and said, "Aren't you cold?" 73 is a bit too chilly for them. (Although I have discovered that prices here are similar to Colorado, so we can't retire here. Dominican Republic it is.)

I learned that the men singing and clapping I heard this morning were actually a running group. They chant to get worked up. That would make working out way more fun. More like an African street party.

I spent a relaxing morning reading, writing, and surfing the web. The communication specialists started arriving throughout the day, and we all had lunch together. I had delicious bouef brochettes, a Rwandan specialty. It took 1 hour to make the food, another specialty of Rwanda. Phoebe and Joe (her husband) were telling us that in some places, you have to beware what you order to ensure you have time. If you order chicken, they may be going out to catch and slaughter the bird. (In which case, you also have to have multiple people order chicken, as you have to eat the whole thing.) One time Joe ordered fish in a rural restaurant. The waiter said, "It might take some time," and Joe said OK. He then saw the waiter get in a boat and starting rowing across the lake to go fishing. That's fresh fish.

After lunch, we drove in a big van 2 hours northwest to Musanze. Here some of us are. You'll notice two Asians. The staff from Bangladesh couldn't get visas for China, so they got to come to Africa instead.
Kigali is a beautiful city to drive through. It's amazingly clean. (Plastic bags are illegal and will be confiscated at the airport.) It was as clean, if not cleaner, than cities in the US, which is impressive if you've seen pictures of Nairobi or Kampala. The streets are also very well maintained and there is little traffic. Although there are still many poor, they have been relocated to the outskirts of the city, so you wouldn't know from driving through Kigali that it has a large population of poor people.

Kigali, and the rest of the countryside, is all hills. It's call "the land of a thousand hills," but there are far more than a thousand. I was surprised by how tall the trees are. I was expecting thick vegetation close to the ground, but the trees are tall and lean. The hills are terraced with farms and the brick-red earth frames them like a patchwork quilt. It's lovely. The countryside kept reminding me of the jungles in Disney's Tarzan, which Mike and I recently watched.

We are staying in Musanze, which is at the foot of Volcanoes National Park. Outside my hotel window is a tall volcano, where the gorillas live. Here is Princess Mosquito bed number two. Just outside the window, to the right of the trees, you can barely make out the volcano. We are at about 8500 feet here.

At dinner, I argued with the Bengalis which sport is more boring: football (soccer), or American football. Now I shall read through my notes to prepare to teach tomorrow!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Flying the Wine-Dark Sea

I lay in Rwanda, under a mosquito net, which makes me feel oddly like a princess. Outside I hear beeping cars and tropical birds. A group of men just passed on the street singing and clapping to a tribal-sounding song. I have no idea why a group of men would sing and clap at 7 a.m., but it is nice.

It took me 24 hours to get here. I flew to Chicago, where I ate my weight in gyro meat before jumping on the next plane to Brussels. On this flight, I watched Toy Story 3 again and cried again at the Mount Doom-esque ending. I sat by a Belgian man of Arabic descent who told me crazy stories like how George Bush Sr. had given him his bomber jacket and the president of UAE had given him his watch. I feigned sleep much of the time.

In Brussels, we only had time to run to our next flight, so I didn't get to hunt for chocolate or waffles in the airport. On the flight, they gave us Camembert with our dinner. This is my kind of country. Dessert was chocolate ice cream. I sat by a Rwandan man who is in the mining industry and travels to Italy to buy technology. Or something like that. I have both the Rwandan and the Belgians business cards in case I ever want to return on a leisure trip.

Phoebe picked us up at the airport. She is American, but has been living in Kigali for three years. She wound her way through Kigali traffic like a pro. Very impressive.

Our hotel is nice, though internet was down last night, so I couldn't tell my hubby I'm alive. But I am alive and excited for what this week will bring!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Headboard My Bed

As you may know, my bedroom is in need of an overhaul. Last night Mike said our bedroom depresses him. How depressing. We decided to go with the Hawaiian theme. Not Lilo-and-Stitch-sheets Hawaii; more Hawaii as defined by the Kauai Hyatt spa (minus that naked lady in the tub).

One thing I'm considering for our room is a headboard. We've never had one, but we do read in bed every night, so it could add some inviting coziness to our ritual. I'm El Cheapo, so I would DIY-it, of course. Here are some ideas. What do you think?

A screen (I love screens, but this would depend on finding a cheap screen):
A DIY bamboo screen (made from placemats!). I like the look of this one a lot, but it doesn't look as cozy to lean on.
A painting. This would cost a little more, but that's OK, as I'm budgeting for a big painting. The crux is finding a painting I like (headboard or no). (I don't like the style below, but love the idea behind it.)
A simple DIY upholstered headboard. I'm a big fan of this, as it's not too imposing, but adds a nice cozy touch. I'll just need to buy some poofy pillows!
A mantel. Nevermind. Let's not kid ourselves. I'm too lazy for Martha.

A 3 panel DIY upholstered headboad. I like this style. Though the panels need to be longer to hide behind the bedframe.
OK, what do you think? Which is your favorite? Or, do you say, "Amber, headboards are so 2003. Go with the minimalist wall"?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Danger of the Single Story

As I'm about to leave for Africa to discuss storytelling, I thought this would be an appropriate talk to share. I hope I haven't shared it yet. Even if you're not a writer, her words are important for all of us, as we strive to understand the varied world around us.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Land of a Thousand Hills

I'm once again about to be off. I fly out Friday to the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda. I will be doing the same training I did in Asia in Africa, with all of our African communication specialists. I can't wait to meet everybody and experience the culture.

The first night (Saturday), I'll stay here in Kigali, the capital. Then once everyone has arrived, we'll drive an hour north to a hotel in Musanze. We'll be right next to Volcanoes Nat'l Park, where the gorillas are! Sadly, I won't be seeing the gorillas. But I'm excited to relax in the beautiful mountains.

After the training is over, I had to stay an extra night because of how the flights were arranged, so I'll be visiting Lake Kivu, one of the great lakes of Africa. Here's where I'll be.

See you later!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A History of Marriage

I don't have a very good memory. This is one reason I blog trips so thoroughly. Last night, my husband and I laid in bed and reminisced on each of the seven years of our marriage. For posterity's sake, I'll share with you. I realized that I tend to remember the good, when looking back, forgetting the pain, but remembering the joy. That's good with me. But I also want to remember past grace and past lessons, so this history will contain the pain and the joys that are any marriage.

Year 1: We lived on Kirkwood Street in a garden-level apartment in Fort Collins near Edora Park. The apartments had an underground raquetball court, where Mike taught me to play. Our bedroom window faced a large field of trees. In the apartment above us lived two emotional college girls who liked to scream and cry at 4 a.m.

Mike was in his senior year of college, getting degrees in Philosophy and English. I had just returned from Amsterdam, and was working at a software company for oil and gas companies as a "Router." This meant I used a computer program to "draw" the routes of pipelines, using satellite imagery, old survey maps, and math. Quite a job for an English major. I was in an angry-at-church phase, so we stayed away a bit, but went to Travis and Sarah's small group with other wonderful people such as the Eggs.

I was conflicted, as many newly married women are, that I was going to lose my identity and that my whole being would be swallowed by Van-ness. Most of our fights centered around our insecurities and as yet fragile trust.

Year 2: We moved to the Preserve apartments on College and Horsetooth. Shannan and Jen lived nearby. Mike was a super senior, graduating in December. Then he got a job as a jewelry salesman at Soho in Old Town, while waiting to hear back from grad schools. Although I had resigned myself to a life of irrelevant and ill-suited jobs, I got a job as a copy editor at Group Publishing in Loveland and adored that I got paid to read and edit.

We continued to be shy at church, but went through two marriage studies with the Swans 'en Eggers. At this time, I also went slightly koo koo. I had gained weight when we got married, then lost it and kept going. The frustration at my body's refusal to be a size 2 resulted in me being not the most fun roommate to live with.

Year 3 and 4: A great change happened. we decided to leave Fort Collins, where I had lived 9 years and where all my friends lived. We moved to Longmont, so Mike could do his Masters in Philosophy in Boulder to the south of Longmont, while I worked at Group in Loveland, to the north of Longmont. We lived in a loft apartment across from the Boulder Country Fairgrounds.

I took a walk many mornings to the nearby park with a view of Longs Peak. We would walk to the Farmers Market on Saturdays at the Fairgrounds. We discovered La Fromagerie cheese shop, Red Mountain Meadery, Martinis restaurant, and a CSA farm. We learned that we love food (including Glacier Ice Cream in Boulder). We hiked in Boulder Canyon. We walked at the lakes in Hygiene, which remains for me the most beautiful spot in the country. We defined who we were as people and as a couple.
I got an idea that I might want to write books. I had wanted this since I was 8, but opportunities presented themselves at Group. I was promoted to editor of women's ministry books. I proposed a book to my boss. She loved it. I wrote Party Divas. I had such fun cooking and writing and marveling in the fact that I got to write.

We went to Rocky Mountain Community Church, in beautiful Niwot. We made wonderful friends like Adam and Tara. But after finishing his Masters, Mike and I once again were at a decision point.

Year 5: We decided to move to Colorado Springs. I had by this time gotten my 2nd book deal, to write Hope Lives, which subsequently got me a job at Compassion. We had decided against Mike getting his doctorate, and instead looking for a job in publishing in the Springs. We moved to Bella Springs apartments north of Compassion.

These first years were hard. I missed northern Colorado, my friends, and familiarity. Mike found freelance writing and editing jobs here and there, but nothing permanent. I missed Group and my old job. As months turned to years, we felt lost and hopeless. It was a dark time.

Year 6: Our dark time continued, but light began to break halfway through. I had begun to love my job and get to travel and freelance write. But more importantly, our dark time had sharpened our characters to the point that we learned that happiness doesn't come from circumstances. God was gracious and allowed me to change my attitude to become a loving, supporting wife unconditionally, rather than a worried, discontent wife.

Though we were still unstable, we decided to take a step of faith and buy a home. Put down roots after 6 years of wandering. This was a big step for my wandering heart. At the same time, we finally found a church after much searching. We began to build relationships. Mike began to build out our home. Though he didn't have a full-time job, he was ridiculously industrious, and we now have new floors, a new kitchen, and a new bathroom to show for it.

After years of feeling forgotten and abandoned by God, I started to feel loved and comforted again through the truth of the Psalms. Mike and I started to feel more bonded together than we ever had, coming triumphant out of a situation that could have torn us apart.

Year 7: Our banner year. Mike continued to be my live-in home contractor. Our burned hearts also felt enough hope to begin to dream again. We always were dreamers; our marriage vows included supporting one another's "dreams," one vow we have both upheld. In job searching, nothing had worked. Despite the fact that Mike is the smartest man I know. Despite the fact that Mike is the hardest working man I know. So, as many do in a time of recession, we began to consider creating jobs for ourselves.

It seemed a bit crazy at the time: We thought, "We love ice cream. We don't love Colorado Springs' ice cream. Maybe we could open a store." A string of unlikely events followed. The man in Boulder who founded Glacier took a liking to Mike and offered him an exceptional deal on a store license. The man who owns University Village and his realtor took a liking to Mike and offered him an exceptional deal on an exceptional property. And finally, an individual amazingly offered us the large loan we needed to open the store.

The stresses and difficulties of opening a store were nothing to unemployment. I was able to use the lessons we'd learned to support Mike, not freak him out with worry.

Now: Now here we are at the beginning of our eighth year. We don't know what will come next, but after it all, what I do know is I have the most loving, wonderful husband on the planet, and a gracious and good God.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Women Are Human, and You Can Be Too

I just read Jon Acuff's post and consequenting comments on the topic: Interactions and friendship with the opposite sex as Christians.

I love me a controversy. Especially when it involves women. I have friends on both extremes. Those who are totally fine eating lunch alone with a man friend. Those who aren't friends with men on Facebook. I don't think either are inherently right or wrong.

Jon concludes, "Of the two camps, 'Jeez, you're such a Puritan, loosen up,' and 'Better safe than sorry, can a dude drive me to the airport,' I know which one I want to fall into."

I would argue that a better option to the two Jon presents would be to try not to lean into extremes. Though extremes are easier, they're not more spiritual and they avoid the larger problem.

On a trip to a conference, Jon asked that a male pick him up from the airport, as he and his wife thought that was the wiser choice. That's cool. In the life of Christian ministry, perhaps this approach is the most practical and advisable.

But in the working world, life doesn't work that way and I would argue shouldn't work that way. (Now, if you believe that women should not be in the work world in the first place, then my arguments will have no weight with you.) But if you are one of us that has rent to pay, then you probably know that avoidance of the opposite sex is simply not practical. Men supervise women. Women supervise men. They have meetings together. Sometimes they discuss sensitive issues and the doors must be closed. That is the working world.

But that makes it sound like interaction between male and female is just an inevitable evil that we must put up with. When truly the thing is:

Women are human. We are human before we are women.

Men, as it turns out, are also human. They are human before they are men. (I'm borrowing from one of my favorite thinkers, Dorothy L. Sayers.)

This may seem simplisitic, but when we say that we cannot have interaction with the other sex, we are viewing their being as primarily a gender, an "other," not a human. The end result of this is an Esmeralda and Minister Frollo mentality. Men's view on women becomes myopic. They are the forbidden fruit to be avoided and shunned. Women's attitude towards themselves becomes shriveled: They are shameful and dangerous creatures of lesser value.

Let me tell you a secret, men: Women don't like the feeling that all we are is a temptation. That we aren't people, we are something to avoid. It hurts our feelings. We don't like being equated with our sex. We don't like it when we're not first considered as people with something to contribute. We don't want to play the Esmeralda to your Frollo.

Avoidance does not build character or spiritual maturity. Our insularity instead lets our issues fester, like Frollo.

If I am jealous of a girl because of her shiny, blonde locks and seemingly infinite circle of friends, I shouldn't avoid the glossy-haired girl in order to avoid sinful, jealous thoughts. I should deal with the root issues that are causing the sin, such as low self-esteem and competitiveness.

If I struggle with anger and occasionally want to scratch my husband when I talk to him (which I don't, by the way), I don't avoid the problem by never talking to my husband. I deal with the root issues causing my anger, such as a sense of entitlement.

If I struggle with flirting with men, the solution is not to never speak to a man again. That doesn't mature my character. It allows it to fester. I need to face the root issues, such as conceit and a desire for attention.

I don't think we should all go throw ourselves in situations that will cause us to struggle so that we can deal with our issues. Certainly not. But I don't think we should retreat from normal, everyday activities that are a part of any human being's life.

My husband (gosh, I love him) happens to be one of those guys who always was friends with girls. (And I gotta say, that is a wonderful kind of guy to marry.) He is still good friends with girls he was close to growing up and I love how he respects and finds great value in them as people.

That doesn't mean we don't practice discernment. By all means, we do. But as humans, we don't just need negative restrictions, we need positive practices. Jesus is a great example of this. He didn't avoid women. He knew how to treat them as people. The radical practice of Christ and Christianity is that men and women are both people, on equal footing.

What men and women really need isn't more time away from each other, what they really need is more practice seeing each other as people, as brothers and sisters in Christ, learning to appreciate the unique and valuable aspects of each individual. If we hide ourselves away from the opposite sex, all they will ever be is an object of desire, not what they are: A human.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pop It

Do you have any funny photo habits?

I tend to look half asleep or drunk in many of my photos, as you can see in this post from a friend of mine. I think the washed out no-nose look is a good one for me.

But another friend recently pointed out another embarassing photo habit of mine. I pose. Like this.
I'm a hip popper. I don't know why I do it. I don't even know that I'm doing it until I get home and see the photos on the computer and me looking like I'm getting ready for my 8th grade Paula Abdul dance recital picture. Those lessons really paid off, apparently.

I might as well go all the way and do this. At least I'm not as weird looking as thoses guys in the middle.

So what's your weird photo habit? Do you pop it? Do you stick your chin way out to avoid double chin-age? (I do.) Do you keep your mouth shut to hide your teeth? (I do.) Come on. Spill it.

The Forbidden City

After wandering around Tiananmen Square, we went into the Forbidden City. This is the entrance, which seemed to also be called Tiananmen. I over-saturated this photo because I wanted everything red. :)

Just outside the gates, there were tons of people offering their services as guides. When we turned down one man he said, "Ahh, I see you do not care about history. You make a big mistake." That might not sound very funny until you go back and read it in your best Chinese accent. I bought an audio guide to prove that I do care about history.

On the flight home from Beijing, I watched the new Karate Kid, which takes place in Beijing and presents a highly idealized version of the place. In the scene when his school visits the Forbidden City, they run through the huge red doors into a beautiful and empty palace. There was nothing empty about the Forbidden City. It was crammed to the gills. Here are the entry doors. You rub the golden spheres for good luck.

As always, there were many lions festooning the place.

And many people to boot.
I didn't see most of the throne rooms, as there were so many people shoving and pushing to see them. It was a Chinese mosh pit to see the Throne of Supreme Harmony. It did not feel very harmonious. After being elbowed by several old men, I gave up.
The halls were all named things such as "Hall of Heavenly Peace" or "Ultimate Tranquility" or "Presevering Harmony." Unfortunately, the harmony has definitely not presevered. It looked like it once was a lovely place, until they let us commoners in.

The buildings all had animal sculptures lining the roofs. The more monkeys, the more prestigious the building. This is the most important building.
There were many interesting gateways.
We next went to the Garden of Supreme Elegance or Peace or Unity or Something Like That, where Chinese and French people shouted, pushed, and bustled. Here is where the Empress would write her poetry. And where the Emporer would choose from a line of 14-year-old concubines.
This is where the emporer would take said concubines. The rocks were caves you could explore and water would be piped through to create waterfalls.
My favorite part of the Forbidden City was the gift shop. Have I really become one of those people? I guess so. It was a lovely break from all the Supremeness. Overall, the Forbidden City was crowded, noisy, and unpleasant. I couldn't leave fast enough. And it wasn't only grumpy, introverted me that felt that way. Though we hadn't explored the many side streets and buildings of the City, which were no doubt more pleasant than the thoroughfare, we just wanted to go home.

After a rest at the hotel, we went out shopping for the afternoon. My sister, Tara, had asked me to buy her a statue in China, but all I had found up until that time was gaudy dragons, fat Buddhas, and huge cabbages. So I finally found a beautiful statue that, in my stupor after all the harmony, I paid a ridiculous amount for. I am officially not allowed to ever shop when traveling again. I make questionable choices. We also had this man write our names in Chinese. Or maybe he wrote "stupid white prostitute." I don't know, but I'm going to hang it on my wall.
For dinner, Kelly and I were too tired to go out, so we decided to eat at the hotel instead. We perused the menu for something light and saw things like, "Air Dry Pig Face," "Pig Ear Strips," and "Pig Feet Soup." Luckily, these all came with pictures, which helped us make our decision.

I had scrambled egg won tons which were delicious, if greasy. The majority of my food in China seemed very greasy, so I came home feeling myself like a greased pig. I also got a little pot of jasmine tea, which was divine on my throat, as by this time I had contracted the Asian Flu of Supreme Elegance.

I flew home the next day in a fog of Supreme Disharmony and collapsed at home in bed for four days straight.